Man accused of setting off pipe bomb behind Tampa home said to enjoy playing with explosives

Joseph Caltagirone, 60, was arrested on April 11, 2018, after Tampa police say he set off a pipe bomb in his backyard. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
Joseph Caltagirone, 60, was arrested on April 11, 2018, after Tampa police say he set off a pipe bomb in his backyard. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
Published April 12, 2018

TAMPA — Joseph David Caltagirone has always loved playing with explosives, his brother said. They fueled the Tampa man's dreams of becoming an engineer and led him to jobs at companies like Intel and Honeywell.

That's why Vincent Caltagirone, of Naples, said he was surprised, but not necessarily shocked, to hear that his brother, now 60, was arrested Wednesday after a homemade model rocket exploded on takeoff in the back yard of the home he shares with their 95-year-old mother.

The experiment landed Caltagirone in Hillsborough County jail on a felony charge of making, possessing, throwing, placing, projecting or discharging a destructive device.

He was released Thursday afternoon after posting $2,000 bail. But according to a criminal complaint filed the same day, Caltagirone will also face federal charges of possession of an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of an explosive material for his failed rocket launch.

"It's something he's always done, but I imagine he's pretty stressed out about it and surprised by everything that's happened," said Vincent Caltagirone, 64. "Joseph's not a malicious person at all. I'm sure he was just fooling around."

The explosion likely wouldn't have happened had Joseph Caltagirone known the Tampa Police Department's bomb squad was training in a building about 100 feet from 1019 E. 17th Avenue, the V.M. Ybor home he shares with his mother and roommate Mark David Rude Jr.

The squad was running practice exercises in an old fire station when the booming explosion rattled the building's windows at about 4:20 p.m., the complaint said. The officers smelled burnt, black powder and followed thick plumes of greyish-white smoke towards Caltagirone's backyard, where they saw a PVC-pipe end cap on the ground and a crater about the size of a basketball, the report said.

"Joseph has always been very, very smart, but he can make some dumb decisions sometimes," Vincent Caltagirone said.

The explosion did not cause any injuries or property damage, Tampa Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

Still, officers closed four blocks of Columbus Drive to rush hour traffic, yelling at neighbors to stay inside their homes as they turned Caltagirone's neighborhood into a crime scene. A thorough search of Caltagirone's home and neighborhood involved the Tampa Police Department's bomb squad, the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Hegarty said.

Joseph's mother, Mary Caltagirone met the officers at the front door and said her son and Rude had run upstairs to their apartment after their homemade model rocket exploded. There, Caltagirone willingly took responsibility for the explosion, jail records said. Rude was questioned by police but is not facing charges.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Caltagirone told police he fueled the rocket with homemade black powder, powdered potassium nitrate and sugar. He told police he kept the chemicals in Tupperware containers. He admitted he got nervous when he saw police canvassing his neighborhood and hid his containers of chemicals in his mother's downstairs sewing room.

Along with the concocted rocket fuel stashed in the room, investigators found hobby fuses, pieces of plugged PVC pipe, and containers of airfloat charcoal, sulfur and tannerite, a highly explosive mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder that can be detonated, the report said.

And when Caltagirone told investigators how he made his model rocket, the directions seemed more like those for a pipe bomb than a hobbyist's handiwork, the report said.

"PVC piping with end caps attached to both sides appears to be inconsistent with hobby rocketry." an ATF agent wrote in the criminal complaint.

Jail records show Caltagirone has been previously arrested in Hillsborough County on charges of marijuana possession, permitting an unauthorized person to drive and DUI with property damage or personal injury.

Several members of Caltagirone's family declined to comment Thursday.

Caltagirone graduated from Tampa Catholic High School in 1975 and obtained a degree from The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, records show.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.